And retain them for a lifetime

It can be exhilarating when you land your first customer because you feel like things are now possible. If you can land one customer, it also means you can land two and more. True, but if you are looking to build a long-term relationship with your customers, that’s another ball-game altogether.

Photo by Nikolas Noonan

My husband and I are running a design business to help small business owners relief their time and pain from having to DIY (Do It Yourself) on platforms like Canva. Our business model runs like software as a service (SAAS). Some people call it design as a service (DAAS), or service product, or productized service.

We focus a lot on helping customers and clients for the long haul or lifetime customer value rather than one-off projects or “one-hit”, “never see you again” model. Hence, we work with people who need design work done on a regular basis and they pay us on a monthly subscription plan.

Though our business has been growing, it only has been growing very slowly. Not halfway through my goal yet. We may be thriving well but we are still far from our vision of helping customers build a remote team of designers they can rely on every day to grow their brands.

Point is, we are great with landing 1 to 5 customers, but this year we are stuck at 10 to 20 customers due to churn. If you are not familiar with this word, based on HubSpot blog, customer churn means “percentage of customers that stopped using your company’s product or service during a certain time frame”.

For example, say for 3 months, we can increase from 10 to 15 customers and find ourselves back to 10 customers in the fourth month. We can stay that way for another few months, land a few more customers in the next month and previous customers stopped using us after that month.

Though we have been working with at least 8 of our customers for more than three years, there are times when a new customer comes and another regular one leaves at the same time, to the point where it’s so coincidental, it looked like they’ve made a pact to do so.

I’m really finding it hard to go beyond 10 to 20 regular customers and learning a lot to do so. As for 1 to 5-lifetime customers, I’m happy to share what I’ve done to get there.

Here are the 5 best ways we used:


1. Go for lowest hanging fruit


Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash


You would be surprised even some of your closest friends and families aren’t sure what you are up to these days.

There was this day when my husband decided to invite his closest cousins to ‘like’ our Facebook business page. One of his cousins responded to say she has been looking for such service for a long time. Now she has been our customer for at least a year.

Another example is my working relationship with my business coach, Lydia Lee. Initially, I engaged Lydia to help me with my branding and we got to know each other better throughout a few months of coaching calls. Then she mentioned she needed help with design work, hence I jumped at the opportunity and told her I would like to help her.

There are millions of designers out there, but it’s a no-brainer to work with me since we know we can get along well and her trust in me has already been built along the way.


2. Give your best help on Facebook Groups

Photo by BRUNO CERVERA on Unsplash

This one works really well for us. You may have seen this advice going around, but most people tell you to just post your website URL on Facebook groups and that’s it.

I’ve tried this too but it never worked. People either ignored my post or we were not a good fit for each other. I believe that people will only work with those they trust, and trust needs more than just a website link.

Here’s what I eventually did in order of sequence:

  1. Find a Facebook Group that includes small business owners who will need my service as well as have the expertise that I can leverage help with
  2. Find a small group, say about 200+ people. You may think it’s better to join a bigger group with tens of thousands of members. In my experience, the one with fewer people helps you become at least micro-famous in that group, rather than drown in an ocean of noise in a bigger group
  3. Find a paid group. If you are willing to invest to learn from a group of pros, same to the rest who pay to join the group. With some money upfront, all the more you and the rest will be more involved and engaged to listen to one another and earn each other’s trust to work together.
  4. Search the group with a keyword in the area of your expertise. In my case, I always use words like “landing pages”, “graphic design”, “branding”, etc. Then I went through the posts where these words have been found. If they are screaming for help, that’s when I jumped the gun and went for the kill even if someone has been there first.
  5. Offer a coupon code or voucher. After a few weeks of giving help with a genuine purpose, I have made my presence and got to know many of the people in the group. That’s a good time to give them a discount on my service. Once in a while, I gave a free one day trial to the first two people.
  6. Delight brings referrals. Happy with my service, whenever someone in the group asked for recommendations of designers, my first few customers didn’t hesitate to mention my name, and that led me to more customers till this day.

3. Under-promise and over-deliver

Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash

For us, when it comes to design work delivery, it’s always hard to guarantee time-lines. Rather than tell customers we can deliver in 24 hours but do not send only after a day or two, we always mention that we can deliver the designs within 3 days, but we usually end up doing so in say 1 to 2 days.

Also, it’s not in our promise that we will complete all design work in a month. But instead of taking our time to work on the designs and let the customers pay for the next month, we always do our best to complete as much customer requests as possible so that they are free to cancel the subscription if they have nothing for us.

Next, have a quality-check process in place. After every design task is done, we don’t just send it across to the customer in that minute. All designers have to run through two rounds of checks to make sure all that has been asked for gets done. Though our checks may not be perfect all the time, our customers are receiving more value for the price of one.



4. Win referrals

Photo by Jeffrey Hamilton on Unsplash

There are tons of advice on this and I’ve tried some of them such as ‘asking current customers to recommend us’. It’s not that this won’t work for you.

Thing is in our case, just by reminding them literally to recommend us did not work for us, because they will recommend us anyway for two good reasons:

  1. What we have done has helped relieve their pain and
  2. Someone asked them for a recommendation
  3. More than one person say something good about us

We are very thankful and appreciative of many of our customers going all the way to post what we have done for them and recommending us to their communities. That really works to get our brand out in public.

However, they did not do that because we told them to do so. They did it on their own free will. In this way, their posts do not look like a series of sponsored advertisements but more like them sharing their delight in the hopes to help others who are looking high and low for such a service.



5. Focus on customer service

Photo by Marko Horvat on Unsplash

Marketing is important to bring in sales and the end-product is important to give results to what the customer wants, but poor customer service is where more businesses send people out the door.

Especially in the realm of design, most designers can’t help but fall in love with their own work. Having been freelancing for 10 years, I know what that means. There will always be a strong attachment between us and our designs because we took pains, time, research and deep thinking to create something out of almost nothing.

Customers may throw their comments on the artwork without the intention to hurt the designer’s feelings. But many designers bring the emotions of their work to the table. They feel like their person has been criticised rather than their work is being scrutinized.

I know this because I was once like this, always burned out from too much client work and feeling under-appreciated from the comments. That led to me to respond to customer emails poorly, with an ego to defend myself instead of my work.

Then I realised we don’t retain customers for our talents and how nice our work is. Our customers are not being personal and there’s no way for them to explain that in words. They are just targetting what needs to be done because they are short of time.

In response, what they want is to hear are the right words. They want to feel connected and heard and they want to know their designers simply get what they are saying. Designers have to put themselves in the customer shoes to allow this, and only being focused on customer service can lead to that.



Go for it

In short, landing your first 5 customers and retaining them comes with the right mindset, lots of time and hard work to fit yourself in the shoes of your customers.

Always put in massive action to find the best ways that work for yourself. Then double down on that by putting in your fullest commitment to those that have proven to work well and do this consistently.

You can do this.

Get started now!